It is no surprise that the Church is not what it was designed to be. To keep from any confusion, the Church is not defined as just a mere building, but rather an assembly of the people of God, and each person is uniquely created to contribute to the whole Church (1 Corinthians 12:12). Despite common misconceptions, there is only one Church, one body in Christ, meant to be the reflection of God unto others. Regardless of culture, ethnicity, gender, political ideology, or any other common division seen in today’s world, there exists one Church, unified by love that is rooted and founded in the heart of God.
Sin Within the Church
Why have so many of us been hurt by this unique family established by God? The problem begins with the sin inside of all of us. The Church is made up sinful people. Where there is sin, there is hurt and pain. This explains why so many people have deep rooted pain, hurt, callousness, and unwarranted shame concerning their experiences with the Church. It’s the people within the church who have sin and therefore, often unintentionally but sometimes intentionally, hurt others through pride, misconstrued truth, or improperly communicated feelings. Often, there is judgement based upon appearance or background which all too quickly leads to exclusion and lies that spread quickly. It is hurtful to have to admit that our pristine buildings and well-intentioned Bible studies can, and often do, project an un-Christlike image.
I grew up in a rather conservative church, and like many southern religious cultures, emotional healing did not really have a proper place. Because of that, I had never truly been able to see the fullness of God in the sense that God is revealed to us as both Elohim (the all-powerful, all knowing God) and Yahweh (a God who desires a deep and sincere relationship with you).
I sustained a deeply rooted hurt from my past mentor, she told me that I, as a 15-year-old girl, was “overreacting” to my mother’s sudden death. She then proceeded to spread unwarranted lies concerning my character. She abused our relationship in order to place herself in a better light in the eyes of church leadership. The consequences that followed were my mistrust of church leadership, and specifically female leadership, which I must continually identify and overcome in order to heal. I also have trouble properly acknowledging the hurts of others, as I now overemphasize my pain and downplay others’ hurts as I compare my hurts to theirs. We see that there is a pattern of hurt that can follow. The hurts we endure while we are in a Church follows and continues to influence us. Here is another example of someone who suffered hurt from their church:
I grew up in what I call a “Country club church” with the idea that faith was how influence was spread and it was use to build a social hierarchy in the church. It was a very works-based church, where I made unfounded hurtful ideas of what the Church really is. If the Bible’s teachings looked like their lifestyle, where works and social perception and reputation identified how worthy you are, I wanted no part. My family stopped going, which extremely misconstrued my idea of what Christ is and what faith is. This caused performance-based acceptance hurts and questioning if God is real. I became very skeptical and judgmental of new people and questioned the intentions of why each person was there. – E. Rosson, 21 years-old, Dallas, TX
Where Healing Begins
So where do we go from here? There are obvious hurts that stem from church with long-lasting, harmful effects. We cannot ignore and avoid them, but we also cannot allow them to ruin our lives and permanently alter the way in which we see and interact with the Church. The first step is to acknowledge those hurts. Whether it was a comment from your second grade Sunday school teacher, your youth pastor, that one lady in the grocery store who had a cross broach, or anyone else claiming to be part of the Church, acknowledge that those words and actions hurt you. Don’t just try to move on because it is then that we begin to harbor bitterness. Second, validate those hurts. If you feel unworthy, or feel any kind of hurt, know that you are allowed to have those feelings, so feel them. Don’t believe the lie that you must ignore them.
In doing this, you are seeing and acknowledging your heart. So don’t deny yourself those emotions. However, don’t rest in that emotional state. Don’t allow those feelings to alter you, or damage your heart permanently. Know that your identity is not grounded in what others say of you. You are a chosen, beloved, sought after, precious child of the Heavenly Father. That is where your identity comes from, so cling to what is true. Once you are able to acknowledge your hurt, it is important that you begin to offer grace to those who have hurt you. It’s difficult, and it exposes a lot of the hard parts of our hearts when we don’t feel that extending forgiveness is something they’ve earned, but, we forgive as Christ forgave us, undeserved and fully covered.
Forgiveness is not waiting for time to heal all wounds, nor is it letting the guilty off the hook, explaining away the hurt, stuffing your anger away, or denying your hurt. Forgiveness is not based on what’s fair, forgetting, a mere feeling, saying that what the other person did was okay, or conditional. Forgiveness is not a one time decision. After forgiving someone, you do not have to enter back into a trusting relationship with that person. Forgiveness is, however, dismissing your demand that others owe you something especially when they fail to meet your expectations, fail to keep a promise, or fail to treat you justly. Forgiveness is setting someone free from the consequence of falling short of God’s standard. It is a choice to obey God while resting in His character, knowing God is righteous in His judgement, even when we just want to get even. When we choose to pursue forgiveness of these hurts, after we acknowledge and validate them, we can then begin to heal these wounds.
Going to the Great Physician
Just like physical wounds, emotional pain can affect what we choose to do and how we think about certain things. When we let wounds fester and do not properly care for them, they grow and cause more damage. In order for them to be healed we must go to a physician. When we go to the Great Physician, who knows our hearts and hurts more than we do, we can trust that He will adequately care for us. Just as with a physical wound, an emotional wound hurts when it’s touched, and we flinch when medicine is applied. But when we acknowledge the wound, let the Healer care for the wound, and carefully keep an eye on it, slowly it begins to heal. The deeper the wound, the longer it takes to heal, and many wounds leave scars.
Showing Your Scars
Once we care for our wounds and experience the healing process, it’s up to us to utilize these wounds to care for others. We can simply allow them to remain, we can never fully allow healing, or we can use our hurts as testimony to grow and strengthen the Church for others. Deal with your hurts, heal from these hurts, and don’t allow them to permanently affect you or the way in which you interact with the Church body. You who have walked through so much, you who are valued more than gold and precious jewels by God, you who have been declared a co-heir with Christ, you are more than the harsh words used against you. Use that scar on your arm to graciously, as hard as it is, go to the Church and show them. Lovingly admonish them. Faithfully serve them.
As a Church, we must learn that what we say, how we say it, and how we live greatly influences those around us. We are ambassadors, and we therefore must approach each person with genuine, authentic love. Take responsibility and accountability for when you intentionally and unintentionally hurt someone. Regardless of why, you must be conscientious of their feelings, understand that their emotions are real. Though they are not always reliable, they still exist and should be cared about. God has called us to go sow seeds, and God will sort out the results in His time. Deal with the hurts, and deal with the impact they’ve had in your life, but allow healing to spark new growth in your life, rather than hinder your joy.